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Brian Hinton and Geoff Wall "Ashley Hutchings The Guv'nor and the Rise of Folk-Rock " Helter Skelter 1900924323

This is the authorised biography of Ashley Hutchings, one of the founding fathers of English folk rock in the late 1960s and early 1970s. For musicologists, folk fans and others interested in the development of a revolutionary form of English traditional music three decades ago, this book is a must. Laid bare are the arguments not just over musical direction - and there were plenty of these - but all the personality clashes and the struggles to introduce a brand of folk music which horrified the purists and confused the music critics. The development of the three leading bands of the era, Fairport Convention, Albion Band and Steeleye Span, are portrayed, warts and all. Yet this book is just the beginning as it is only volume 1. It covers Ashley's life up until the breakup of the Albion Band in 1973. Two further volumes are planned, bringing his life story up to the present.

Ashley was in a good position to explore the machinations of the three bands as he was, at various times, a member of each. He witnessed the traumas and the tragedies including the 1969 fatal car crash on the M1 which decimated Fairport and had such a devastating effect on surviving band members, especially Ashley. .

The rapid rise to success of Fairport in a very short period brought, within the band, the seeds of its own downfall. At the heart was - unsurprisingly - the disputes over musical direction. Should there be rock in the folk or folk in the rock? Divisions formed not least over this but invariably on a more personal dimension. Ashley first came to fame both as a bass guitarist and founder member with Fairport and was heavily involved in the ground breaking album Liege and Lief - an album which will remain forever in the folk music hall of fame. From Fairport came Steeleye Span and then the Albion Band. The reasons for him leaving one combination and joining the other are clearly outlined - at least from his perspective.

All three bands were enormously influential in what developed at the time and since in English folk music. Folk heroes of to-day such as Eliza Carthy, Show of Hands, Chris Miles and Julie Matthews are just a few of the current crop whose musical origins owe a lot to Ashley. Ashley does recognise the musical snowball that he set rolling. "And then of course the beginnings of folk rock, when we believed we could put a British stamp on rock music and change it forever. We had limited success, but I do know that the ripples are still being felt all these many years later."

Helter Skelter are to be praised for telling Ashley's story with much more to come in the following volumes. Other books published by Helter Skelter tell the story of Sandy Denny, Al Stewart and Gram Parsons.

Dave Dewar

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This album was reviewed in Issue 51 of The Living Tradition magazine.